I was listening to Dave and Big Bro Scho during a podcast last week as they were talking about comeback players of the year. They were throwing out the contenders, Ben Roethlisberger, JuJu Smith-Schuster, James Conner, and Stephon Tuitt. I shook my head in agreement for most of the show as they made so many valid points.
History of the Comeback Player of the year
The award was given out to a player who overcame adversity, a poor season, or injury by different news agencies. (I will ignore UPI and The Sporting News due to the short time they gave out the award.)
From 1963 to 1966 the Associated Press gave out the Comeback Player award for both the NFL and the AFL. The AP took a hiatus until 1997 and continues to this day.
PFW/PFWA: Pro Football Weekly and Pro Football Writers of America.
Since 2008 these two organizations have been in lock step with each other but it has not always been this way. For this article we are only going to focus on the years in which they were in lockstep, which has been each of the past 11 years.
What positions have won the award since 2008?
Two wide outs
One tight end
Who were the players and how deserving were they?
Chad Pennington was injured and missed a few games but was just terrible going 1-7 with a 10 TD to 9 INT record in nine games in 2007. He rebounded in 2008 going 11-5 with 17 TDs and 7 INTs.
Tom Brady missed 2008 due to a torn ACL during Week 1 and went 10-6 with 28 TDs and 13 INTs in 2009.
Michael Vick broke out in 2010 after a 13 pass attempt season in 2009 and made the Pro Bowl with an 8-3 record while totaling 30 TDs and 6 INTs.
Mathew Stafford played in three games during an injury marred 2010 season but rebounded in 2011 with a 10-6 record while tossing 41 TDs and 16 INTs with a league high 663 attempts.
Peyton Manning, after missing the 2011 season with a neck injury, stunned the NFL the following season with an All-Pro performance going 13-3 and 37-11 TD to INT ratio.
Phillip Rivers won the award despite a 9-7 record and 7-9 record the year before. It was a very mediocre year for candidates.
After four surgeries on his forearm and one on his back, Rob Gronkowski did not see any game action until October of 2013 only to have his season wrecked with a torn ACL and MCL in early December. In 2014 he returned to All-Pro form with a line of 82-1,124-12. Impressive stats considering the amount of surgeries the previous season.
Eric Berry missed five games due to a high ankle sprain but that was so insignificant when he was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma in early December. Berry roared back after being cleared of cancer and compiled two interceptions, 10 pass deflections, and 61 tackles in 2015.
During a preseason game in 2015 against the Steelers, Jordy Nelson tore his ACL and missed the entire season. In 2016, Nelson compiled a line of 97-1,257 and a league high 14 TDs.
After sustaining his second torn ACL in as many seasons, Keenan Allen rebounded in 2017 with his first Pro Bowl with a line of 102-1,393-6.
Andrew Luck’s 2017 was marred with shoulder woes that resulted in zero snaps under center. His 2018 might have been his last in the NFL but with a 10-6 record and 39-15 TD-INT ratio, he went out in style.
Ryan Tannehill went to the Tennessee Titans to make some cash as a backup but ended up carrying the Titans to a 7-3 mark while chucking a 22-6 TD-INT mark and a 70% competition rate.
Who are the comeback player of the year candidates for the Steelers?? Let’s be realistic here.
High priced free agents, Eric Ebron and Derek Watt are off the board. While Ebron is coming off a down year, it is doubtful he would see enough time to rack up the numbers required to garner the award.
James Conner once again proved that his brittleness cannot be counted upon, but can he actually play 16 games at a high level and return to his 2018 Pro Bowl form? A lot of that will depend on if the aging Steelers line can return have a similar bounce-back season.
JuJu Smith-Schuster coming off a monster 111-1,426-3 line in 2018 was destroyed by quarterbacks that ignored him being open along with a myriad of injuries. He has millions of reasons to produce gargantuan numbers as he enters a contract year.
We could get all wild and crazy and pick some offensive lineman, but that is all it would be, wild and crazy. As bad as anyone not named Matt Feiler was, it is just not going to happen for any of them to get the award in 2020. Voters only like flash and linemen are not flashy.
Defensively the only candidate is Stephon Tuitt. Come on— let’s be realistic here. Tuitt has not played 16 games since his rookie year but that only included four starts. Sure, Tuitt was on a monster pace with 3.5 sacks in six games before getting hurt, but can he be counted upon to stay healthy and productive? His injury marred career has been filled with one disappointing season after another with a mere 23.5 sacks over 64 starts.
Were Terrell Edmunds or Mike Hilton bad enough to be considered for the award? They were not outstanding but not dumpster fire worthy either.
The award is going to go to a quarterback who has sustained an injury (Or Rivers who was not up against anyone else.), a couple of top notch wide outs whose quarterback was around the year before, a top-notch safety rebounding from cancer, or one of the best tight ends in the game.
Unless someone else ends up throwing the ball everyone but Conner is out of the running. What would it take for Conner to win the comeback player award? Probably 2,000 rushing and receiving combined and double digit touchdowns. What do you think, can he pull that off?
What about Tuitt? He was on a torrid pace last season, why discount him? Like it or not, he is brittle. What else would you call it when a player misses a third of the games over a three year span? He would have to start all 16 games and garner double digit sacks and a bucket full of tackles.
Any player on the Steelers roster to have a chance at Comeback Player all hinges on Ben Roethlisberger. Rudy, Duck, or one of the other camp arms currently on the roster just lack the talent to step up and lead the team with 4,000 yards and 30 touchdowns deep into the playoffs.
Big Ben might be the odds on favorite to win the award, but two former winners will have their say in the matter in Gronk and Stafford.
Do you feel anyone besides Ben Roethlisberger wins the award for the Steelers? Do you think Ben rebounds or is unable to regain his previous form? If he cannot step up, who in the NFL do you think takes home the 2020 Comeback Player award?